No time to waste! Here's what it takes to transform Disney World for the holidays overnight

Lisa Borotkanics may not be an elf, but she’s definitely one of Santa’s helpers.

And Mickey’s.

Borotkanics and her team at Disney Holiday Services work all year to make Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line holidays feel magical, even if it’s hot outside.

“In Florida, we own summer, right?” the Holiday Services manager said. “We have to make fall … because we can have amazing parades and wonderful holiday foods, but if it doesn’t feel like it, what’s a festival?”

The same goes for winter, which her team evokes with a crafter’s wonderland of seasonal decor.

Borotkanics gave USA TODAY a peek at preparations over the summer, on a tour of Holiday Services’ main warehouse and workshop, which some liken to Santa’s workshop. “This is where all the magic happens,” she said.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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How long does it take to decorate Disney World for the holidays?

Depending on the park, like EPCOT, we do in one night.

Magic Kingdom, we’ll do in two nights because we’re switching over from Halloween. So we have to take all the Halloween out, and then we put in some of the Christmas decor, so it feels good right when you walk in. As a guest, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ But that’s not all. We got one more night, and then we’ll finish the rest of it.

Animal Kingdom goes in phases because we have that beautiful luminary package that goes over in Discovery Island. So we’ll put that up at the end of October, and then when we come back, we’ll do that park in one night as well.

Hollywood Studios is two nights, actually, because when we load in Echo Lake, we’ll put the floating ornaments in before we put the tree in, just so that we don’t have cranes working around people in boats.

We start Halloween night, and we’re finished the week of Thanksgiving, but if you want to break it down in numbers, it is 18 working nights, and we decorate all of Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line, which includes an island.

(Starting in September) we load over 100 trailers’ worth of decor. That includes flatbed trucks, dry vans, box trucks – just to get ready for November.

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How many decorations are there?

We have over 40,000 finished pieces that go out every year.

And we have three warehouses that total about 160,000 square feet.

We’re designing for each park and each resort and all the different locations.

Magic Kingdom is turn-of-the-century, but then you go over to Wilderness Lodge and that’s a whole lodge feel. Caribbean Beach, well, that’s Caribbean. So for every theme that we have, there is not one area decorated the same.

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Do you switch out decorations every year?

Every year we go through refurbishment, so those over 40,000 items are touched every year.

We have a cycle program where we change out the base of the foliage. We don’t change it every year (though) we want that to come out and look like it’s new every year.

We’re planning for the cycle plans and then anything new that comes up.

And our guiding principle as we decorate is welcome home.

Are there any areas that aren’t decorated?

If you go to EPCOT, we don’t decorate Morocco.

We do decorate Japan, but we do it in such a subtle way that if it’s not your culture, you wouldn’t know. We put up a shimenawa. Traditionally you would take rice stalks and you would braid them into a tapered garland. It’s actually towards the new year, and that would capture, almost like a (dream)catcher, bad spirits, bad vibes from the year prior.

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How long has this been going on, since Disney World’s beginning?

Absolutely. We do have some elements from the first Christmases (at Disney World). We have the original popcorn that was done for Magic Kingdom, the little soldiers. We’ve made spare sets as well.

So we do have some original pieces. A lot of that, though, we’ll send to our archives. Just really big pieces that are monumental to our guests and our cast members to remember how it all started.

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How many people work on holiday decorations?

We are a very small group (at Holiday Services). We’re under 50 full-time.

We’re the largest group focused on the holidays, but I don’t want to forget our partners. We have entertainment as well. We have our visual group, who does visual merchandising, all the windows and fun stuff you see in the windows. And, of course, food and beverage do great food displays. But we’re the overlay.

We bring seasonal (help) in, and we also bring some vendors on board as well.

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How long does it take to take decorations down?

When we take it down, we’ll start with resorts then the parks, so we can stay decorated for the (RunDisney) marathon. That is always a huge partnership of ours, the marathon. We have so many people that come through that, and they look forward to running through the holiday lights.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disney holidays are here. What it takes to make magic at Disney World.

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